Very 'Steve McQueen'

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We don’t know the real Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, do we? The two World Champions, who will soon be lining up on the grid for a brand new Grand Prix season, have much in common, not least their unrepentant apathy towards both the press and the bright lights of celebrity. They really can’t be bothered with either and care only for another, more important, shared attribute: they are both wonderful racing drivers who love pushing Formula 1 cars to the limit and beyond.

I can’t help but admire the simplicity of their approach to life in Grand Prix racing. Both Räikkönen and Alonso ‘zone out’ when it comes to the periphery stuff, which basically translates to anything that doesn’t affect their performance out on the track. That’s a hard-line attitude – and very ‘Steve McQueen’.

The downside for us is that we never really get to know these heroes. Fans rely more than ever on the media because personal touching-distance access is almost impossible today. But all we get are two-dimensional images. Our insight into their personalities, what makes them the great drivers they are, is limited to what we can glean from the surface, from bland press conferences and sterile TV interviews. Even the rare one-to-one interviews these days can’t take place without the omnipresent PR. We rely on ‘nuggets’, the odd one-liner, body language, what isn’t said, and so on. A far cry from the likes of Alan Jones (see page 78).

Perhaps Räikkönen and Alonso have nothing else to offer anyway. Perhaps what we see is all there is, although tales of Kimi’s often alcohol-related adventures away from the race circuits suggest otherwise. But it’s a shame we might never find out.

It’s not really their fault, of course. Räikkönen, Alonso and the rest of the F1 grid are products of their time. They live in a world where the clamour of an intrusive media is never silenced, and to maintain the privacy they crave a protective shell is essential (although it should be noted that Alonso is not averse to using the media for his own ends, as both Renault and McLaren have discovered in the past).

I wonder what a character such as Jim Clark, who we will commemorate on the 40th anniversary of his death next month, would have made of the modern Grand Prix world. I suspect he would have hated it. And would this man who also valued his privacy have become just as insular as Räikkönen and Alonso? It’s possible.

So perhaps the modern drivers aren’t that far removed from their predecessors after all. Perhaps it’s just the world that’s changed and they have evolved to combat it. Perhaps the simple approach of Räikkönen and Alonso is the only way they can function. So if they want to do their talking on the track, let them chatter away. To them, it’s all that matters. In truth, it’s all that’s ever mattered.

As we closed for press, the wonderful news filtered through that Champ Car and the IRL had finally seen sense and made peace. A united Indycar series is a reality – and we don’t even have to wait until 2009! After 12 years of watching the US single-seater scene rip itself apart, it feels so good to write these words: the war is over.

It was our correspondent Robin Miller who first broke the news that the Champ Car bosses had come round to the inevitable and were holding talks with Indy boss Tony George. We have dared to hope. But brokering a deal in February, with teams, race promoters and sponsors already committed to separate series, was always going to be a tall order. The Champ Car camp had dragged its heels for too long already, and even had the gall to blame the media (or rather Miller) for spoiling the talks by daring to write about the most important story in recent US racing history. What nonsense, but it doesn’t matter now. The deal is done – and that’s all that counts.

Damien Smith

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